When Francesco Clemente met Alba Primiceri in the mid-seventies, after returning from his first visit to India, they were both living in Rome, where he had made his first forays as a painter and she was well known as an actress in avant-garde theatre. They have spent long periods together in Chennai (formerly Madras), where he set up a studio in the seventies and has worked in collaboration with local artisans since then. He continued with his declared aim of reconciling European cultural tradition with eastern spiritual vision when he and his family relocated to New York in 1981.
Yet it is the portraits of her by Francesco Clemente that offer the most interesting glimpses of Alba’s personality and, by extension, the artist’s own—he has stated that “each artist sees himself in his muse” and has also often included himself in portraits together with her, fusing both faces into a single image. One of the best-known portraits of Alba to date may be the picture that shows her prone in a red dress with an Indian bracelet, which was used as the poster for his exhibition at the Guggenheim in New York in 1999.
In most of the portraits in this exhibition, Alba is wearing hats that seem to belong to ancient, exotic civilisations or religions, and she is also shown smoking—the cigarette as a distinctive feature reminds us of the poem Alba’s roach by Vincent Katz, which was included in the volume that appeared in conjunction with this project, along with a poem by Enrique Juncosa. There are also double representations, refracted reflections, as if two separate moments or realities of a single identity were captured in a mirror. In all of them, the artist projects himself at the same time as he imagines or remembers all the layers, all the Albas that compose the complex idea of his eternal beloved.